FUBAR, while not an official military term, was the choice acronym that some members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee used during a hearing Wednesday to describe the debacle that is the Aurora hospital project.
FUBAR on steroids, was the exact phrase, along with historic construction catastrophe, billion-dollar budget debacle, and a shakedown.
But U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman said it best when he suggested the VA was not even qualified to build a lemonade stand.
For VA officials, the hearing just went downhill from there.
The Obama administration had no friends on either side of the aisle coming to the rhetorical assistance of Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, who threw himself on the mercy of the committee with repeated apologies and claims of extreme embarrassment.
“We bungled it, we screwed it up,” Gibson said.
No one disagreed with him.
Neither was anyone on the panel willing to endorse the administration’s plan to rob from a fund they claimed last year was an emergency need to hire VA hospital staff, in order to the pay for the near $1 billion cost overruns in Colorado. That was the plan hyped by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet late Monday to the Denver Post and AP.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers were especially perturbed when Gibson told them that no way, no how, would Congress even see a report on how the agency planned to fix the Denver debacle as well as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cost overruns at other hospital construction sites, until after the Colorado money was secured.
The VA essentially demanded congressional authorization by May to swipe the emergency funding for hiring medical workers to be used for the hospital’s completion. Or, they basically threatened, it would just cost more money to mothball the entire hospital construction.
“The devil’s deal,” is how one Democrat described it.
But here was the pièce de résistance: unbeknownst to ANYONE, until the committee got an email from the Obama administration last night, the VA now plans to add a psychiatric residential rehabilitation treatment program to the Aurora hospital.
When asked why no one in Congress had been informed of this new need, that sort of legally requires congressional authorization, Gibson said they did not get the go ahead from the White House until last night to speak about it publicly.
The VA also communicated in that late-night email they would rather avoid identifying savings that undoubtedly exist within the department’s $163 billion budget, the second largest within the federal government.
In other words, just give us what we demand and no one will get hurt.
Three guesses how well that went over with Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Florida.
“They want to utilize money that they claimed just eight months ago was needed to increase access across the country, and all to complete a bloated construction project that includes a glass concourse that covers three-and-a-half football fields and now apparently includes a secret psychiatric residential rehabilitation treatment program that was never discussed previously and is not listed on the reprogramming worksheet VA provided three weeks ago in support of the needed additional funding.”
But the good news is, there was a lot of sympathy for Coffman from colleagues on both sides of the aisle as to the predicament the VA’s continued arrogant and unreasonable demands have placed him in his quest to see that hospital completed.
The bad news is, Coffman will need it.
On the flip side, expect an avalanche of support for Coffman’s bill to strip the VA of all major hospital construction authority in the future.